John Muir Middle School welcomed visiting students from Japan at the annual Japan Day celebration held on Wednesday, November 9, with a kimono fashion show, live music melding taiko drums and rock and roll and a traditional Japanese dance performance.
Japan Day celebrations happen during the annual Japanese student visit organized by the Rebun International Exchange Program. The students are hosted by several Muir families for a few days. The annual Japan Day event is organized by English and Japanese Cultural teacher Ted DeVirgilis.
To kick off Japan Day, the visiting students from Rebun Island, Japan, introduced themselves to Muir Middle School students at the kimono show held in the school’s library. Then, Kimono Master and sensei, Sueko Oshimoto, spoke to the assembled students about the four different kinds of kimono they would see that day.
Four sixth-grade Muir students in the JapanGo Japanese Culture classes wore the different kimono styles: the Yukata, a summertime kimono made of cotton, worn by Nishka Mengde; the Montsuki, a formal kimono for a young man worn by Jacob Conner; a modern kimono dress designed and made by Oshimoto and modeled by Sophia Markaryan; and the Furisode, a traditional Japanese kimono for a young unmarried lady and worn by Rina Skarmeas.
Oshimoto and stylist/photographer Kentaro Terra, each wearing traditional kimonos, demonstrated how they finish layering and tying the formal kimono for the Furisode style, noting hair ornaments, long sleeves and many style-specific aspects of the ensemble.
Oshimoto and Terra intricately folded, wrapped and padded the approximately 15 foot long obi, a sash that goes around the middle of the ensemble and arranged with a decorative flair in the back. The full traditional ensemble for the Furisode costs about $3000.
While wearing a kimono often requires assistance, and lots of time, to get everything in the right place, Oshimoto mentioned that she can, by herself, dress completely in a traditional kimono in about 15 minutes.
“Kimono is one of the representatives of Japanese culture,” commented Oshimoto, an award-winning costume designer and kimono specialist, who’s work has been featured in film, opera, video, commercials and fashion magazines, in addition to fashion shows and beauty pageants. Her clients have included Westworld, SHOGUN, various international Vogue and high fashion magazines and the Miss World, Miss Universe and Miss Asia USA competitions.
“I want them to see the many things that Japanese people care about in their own culture or tradition through Japanese kimono,” she also said. “I hope this experience will become a gateway to interest in Japanese culture for the students.”
“I felt this was our best Japan Day since our record-setting Japan Fan Dance of 2017,” commented DeVirgilis. “The kimono class was perfectly balanced between information and surprises.”
“It’s a tribute to the presentation style of Sensei Oshimoto and the beautiful designs on the student models that both the Japanese Culture and Creative Design classes were incredibly interested in the audience,” he added. “No need to nudge a kid to listen respectfully. They were engrossed.”
In the afternoon, the whole Muir student body attended two assemblies in the auditorium to watch the Japan Day events continue, including live music and dance performances.
“The energy in the afternoon assemblies was amazing. Kudos both to our kids and the performers,” DeVirgilis continued. “First the Rebun students introduced themselves and shared what they had enjoyed in their brief time in America. The loudest cheers from the Muir audience were for In-N-Out and excitement to see the Lakers vs. Clippers game that night.”
The visiting Rebun students performed the Yosakoi, a traditional Hokkaido fishing culture dance, for the attendees.
Dr. Akiko Agishi, Supervisor of the Rebun International Exchange Program, addressed the audience at the assembly. She spoke about the success of the program for the tiny island of Rebun, Japan’s northern-most island that is home to less than 2500 people.
Ten years ago, there were only about two students per grade level attending the island’s school. After ten years of the program, with annual visits to the United States for every tenth-grade class, the school now averages 20 students per grade level. Students come from throughout Japan to attend Rebun School.
Agishi also shared a message from Japanese Consul General’s Office, congratulating Rebun Island, the Rebun International Exchange Program and John Muir Middle School on the continued cultural exchange program.
Arizona-based, Japanese-American taiko drummer and pop musician Ken Koshio and his son Miro performed a combination of Japanese, world and American pop music for the assembly. The first piece, a powerful taiko drum performance, morphed into the very familiar Queen song “We Will Rock You,” which got everyone singing along.
DeVirgilis noted, “A combination of Japanese and world rhythms had the Muir students clapping and calling out in response to Koshio in Japanese and English. Who knew that immersing yourself in culture could be so fun?!”
“The Rebun students came to Muir to learn from American culture,” he also said. “I think Muir did the same, thanks to our friends from Japan and the Japanese-American community.”
Eighteen eleventh-graders from Rebun High School were joined by school and city officials for this make-up trip since they were not able to visit in 2021 as tenth-graders due to the coronavirus pandemic.